Ever since its second season, when Chevy Chase decided to ditch Saturday Night Live for Hollywood—he was replaced by some guy named Bill Murray—the only constant on NBC’s long-running sketch series has been change.
Some cast members leave to make movies or TV series or joke-punk albums nominally written by their British alter egos. Others quit in protest. Still more are forced out, not because they want to leave but because the show is going through a fraught series of retoolings (see: the ’80s). Or because it has to make room for a new crop of bright young things (see: Chris Parnell, the first time he was let go from SNL). Or because budget cuts mean an across-the-board belt-tightening (see: Chris Parnell, the second time he was let go from SNL). Or because the previous year’s cast was simply too damn big (see: the four featured players from season 39 who won’t be returning when the show does Sept. 27). And every time cast members go, either gently or kicking and screaming, there’s a fresh crop of untested talent waiting to take their places. Just call SNL the hydra of comedy.
To celebrate Saturday Night Live‘s upcoming 40th season, EW has put together a timeline that charts how its cast has fluctuated over the years. We pinpoint auspicious beginnings and game-changing departures, as well as the number of new and returning cast members featured in every season—which drives home when the show has seen the greatest amount of turnover, as well as when it’s been the most stable. A caveat: Our timeline is based on a list of names NBC provided to EW—a list that, for whatever reason, doesn’t recognize featured players until the show’s 14th season. Accordingly, we’ve left those players out of our final-season tallies. (Sorry, Peter Aykroyd.)
Click through the timeline here—and feel free to argue about which cast was best below.